Q&A: Florian Kahlert, the Digital Pro Now Measuring Print at GfK MRI

How a Digital Veteran Plans to Lead GfK MRI Into The 21st Century

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Florian Kahlert, the new managing director at GfK MRI, is inheriting an organization known for measuring print audiences in a world that is becoming decidedly more digital.

Florian Kahlers is the new managing director of GfK MRI, which provides a yardstick for magazine audiences
Florian Kahlers is the new managing director of GfK MRI, which provides a yardstick for magazine audiences

GfK MRI surveys 26,000 consumers each year for the company's "Survey of the American Consumer." For years, magazine publishers have relied on this data to show advertisers the demographics of their readers, including their household incomes and spending habits.

To collect this data, the organization literally goes door to door, questioning people about the print and digital media they consume. It's a labor-intensive effort, but one that Mr. Kahlert says helps to maintain the integrity of the data it collects. "It is a very sophisticated, very expensive and very elaborate process that people have been doing and refining over the years," he said.

But the organization has faced critics who say the organization has been slow to keep pace with new technologies and readership habits. The media landscape is evolving quickly, they argue, and one of its key measurement arms is falling behind.

The appointment of Mr. Kahlert seems intended partly to address that concern. He has spent the last 16 years working in digital media, helping pioneer ad exchanges and programmatic ad buying. Before taking the managing director role, he oversaw GfK's digital market intelligence and media and entertainment groups in the U.S.

Mr. Kahlert said he's intent on drawing upon his experience in the digital world to ensure that the organization remains important for the next generation.

"Print is going to be relevant, our clients are going to be relevant, but they are looking for new ways to do things," he said. "We are going to move with them and we are going to make sure they always have the data they need to make their decisions."

Recently, Mr. Kahlert -- who started in his new role in July -- spoke with Ad Age about his new position and the challenges ahead for GfK MRI. The conversation has been lightly edited.

Advertising Age: How do you answer people who say your survey methods are outdated -- we live in a digital world and you're going door to door?

Florian Kahlert: We do get that question, though usually not from the magazine publishers ...

Ad Age: Who is asking it?

Florian Kahlert: Agency people, people who are not in research. When you explain what you do to someone at a party, they say, "Really? In the 21st century?"

AdAge: So how do you answer them?

Mr. Kahlert: There are certain constraints that we are under simply by the fact that we are considered a currency. Imagine if you were the U.S. Mint and you started printing dollars in a different shape. You can't just do that. There are a lot of people who rely on it a certain size so it can be counted in counting machines. It's similar for us.

The door-to-door is the most reliable way of getting a representative audience of the United States. It's still much more reliable than phone interviews and more reliable than a sample you might get digitally, which would be skewed in one way or another. The survey method and accuracy require certain things like door-to-door interviewing, and the reason we do this is because it yields the most reliable sample possible.

Ad Age: Do you envision a time when you move beyond this method?

Mr. Kahlert: Yes. There ways to move forward and possibly go to other ways of digital collection. Now we need to make sure we maintain the trendability and reliability of the data that we have obtained in the past. We need to treat this as a very long-term carefully planned exercise and we need to make sure that whichever direction we move is agreed upon by the MRC [the Media Rating Council, which accredits media measurement services] and our clients so they aren't suddenly in a situation where they are confronted by a change in numbers.

Ad Age: What do you want your imprint on the organization to be?

Mr. Kahlert: I can tell you what attracted me to the job. This company has been in business for a very long time, and the brand recognition in the publisher's space and agency space is absolutely phenomenal.

But what you kind of alluded to is that some people might consider what we've done stuffy -- I don't want to use the word outdated, but in need of updating to 21st century methods of how people communicate and what kind of things people use. And that is something that is extremely attractive to do. If I had my druthers, I would like to see that MRI data is still relevant and still regarded in the same vein of being a needed source in 20 years as they are now. In order to be relevant we need to move so that companies still feel they can trust us in the way they move now. If we can update it, and I can make a contribution to that, then that would be a great achievement.

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